The reduction in interest rates since 2016 has increased cash-in-hand for mortgage holders while also reducing income
for those who do not have mortgages through lower deposit rates, a Reserve Bank paper shows.The household cash flow effects of low interest rates in New Zealand (PDF 379KB)
As part of the Bank’s analysis of the distributional effects of monetary policy this research aims to explain part of
the savings redistribution transmission channel.
To do so the paper considers a thought experiment where the population in 2016 suddenly finds itself facing the lower
retail interest rates that were prevalent in 2020.
Retail interest rates were lower in 2020 than 2016 due to a combination of factors, including lower global interest
rates, and cuts in the Official Cash Rate in 2019 and in March 2020 following the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
The change in cash-in-hand for households directly following the fall in interest rates, is termed the cash flow effect
of lower interest rates. This captures the price effect of the savings channel, but does not include any change in
saving or borrowing that may occur due to lower interest rates.
Applying these new interest rates, the cash-in-hand for mortgage holders is estimated to rise by an average of 1.0%,
while those who do not have mortgages experience a 0.4% decline due to lower income from deposit savings.
Low-income mortgage holders are the largest beneficiaries of the reduction in mortgage interest rates, and middle-aged
households also see notable benefits. However, older households (those aged 55 and above) tended to see a reduction of
their income due to lower interest rates - as these households tend to have smaller mortgages and more significant
Quantifying the change in cash-in-hand for different types of households also provides insights into how much the
economy responds to lower interest rates. Highly-indebted lower income households tend to be more willing to spend any
income boost, and the reduction in interest rates has increased incomes for this group during this period. This suggests
that lower interest rates may have stimulated the economy quite strongly.
This analysis is partial in nature – it does not provide the full picture on the distributional impacts of policy. We
need to continue to build up to the bigger picture in order to truly understand the implications of monetary policy and
the current low interest rate environment for the distribution of wealth and income.About the research programme
The Reserve Bank is carrying out a wide range of research about the different ways changes in interest rates could
affect the distribution of wealth and income in New Zealand. Each research paper is aimed at giving the bank (and other
decision-makers) parts of the jigsaw puzzle, to help our understanding, rather than a complete picture all at once.
The first part of this ongoing research was a recent paper looking at the international evidence:Low interest rates - who are the winners and losers?
This paper showed there are winners and losers when interest rates are cut, but the international evidence is not clear
that this always means the rich get richer and the poor are worse off.
Over coming months and years, the bank’s researchers will look at different aspects of how lower interest rates may
affect different groups in New Zealand. For example, researchers are looking at the impact of monetary policy on New
Zealanders’ incomes, and in future will look at the impact on housing wealth.
This research programme may or may not change our overall view of monetary policy- whether rates should be raised or cut
and by how much. This distributional research is about the unintended consequences of monetary policy, not about the
overall effectiveness of monetary policy in achieving our mandate.
The Reserve Bank’s overarching aim is to promote the prosperity and well-being of all New Zealanders. With monetary
policy, our core focus is to support full employment and low and stable inflation.
Monetary policy remains an effective, but blunt, tool to achieve these goals. It is also important that we understand
how changes in interest rates affect different groups, regions, and sectors in New Zealand. Understanding these
distributional effects can help shine a light on areas where broader government policies might be able to help reduce
the unintended consequences of monetary policy.